Across Maryland, dozens of inmates convicted of violent crimes — carjackings, shootings and attempted murder — are using a state law intended to help addicted offenders get drug treatment to win early release, sometimes years before they are eligible for parole. Now some officials are objecting, the Baltimore Sun reports. “We have very serious, high-risk offenders receiving sentencing modifications and absconding from treatment,” says Lisa Smith of the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office. “That is a very serious public safety concern for us.” More than a decade ago, the Maryland legislature and Gov. Robert Ehrlich approved bipartisan legislation to strengthen a program that allowed inmates with addictions to leave prison to enter residential treatment facilities. While the legislative push centered on helping nonviolent offenders, parts of the legislation made no distinction between non-violent or violent crimes.
As opportunities for treatment beds have grown, prosecutors are ringing an alarm bell: They’re objecting to judges shortening sentences of violent offenders. In the last fiscal year, 152 people convicted of violent crimes were released early through the 8-505 or 8-507 program, after the laws that authorize evaluations and drug treatment instead of incarceration. The offenders are supposed to remain in treatment for up to a year, and then released under state supervision. The treatment centers are not secure, and the convicts routinely leave. In the past five months, 47 of 164 individuals placed into treatment facilities went missing. Prosecutors cite a litany of violent convicts, including an armed carjacker that left his victim bloodied and a young man who beat a homeless man in a “vicious assault,” who were allowed to leave prison for treatment. Maryland violent offenders typically are required to serve half their sentences before they are considered for parole. Violent crime defendants were released to treatment beds after serving only a third of their sentences.